Every summer leading up to training camp Buffalobills.com asks 25 of the most pressing questions facing the team as they make their final preparations for the upcoming regular season. With a new regime and practices at St. John Fisher fast approaching, here is the latest installment as we closely examine some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 28th and Sept. 12th.
One of the biggest unknowns at this point of the summer is exactly how the playmakers on the Buffalo Bills defense will adapt to the new 3-4 scheme. The Bills have a number of players who have made strides the last few seasons to become major contributors, men like Kyle Williams, Jairus Byrd, George Wilson, and fan-favorite Paul Posluszny. The impact of these players has certainly been felt on the defensive side of the ball, and all should perform at a high level this season as well.
With a new era dawning at One Bills Drive, it is time for the next crop of young players to make the move toward being a force for defensive coordinator George Edwards. The two prime candidates to be the breakout playmakers of 2010 are two of the team's last three first-round draft choices, Aaron Maybin and Leodis McKelvin.
For Maybin, the 11th overall selection in 2009, his rookie campaign showed a mere glimpse of what he is capable of on the field. The 6'4", 250-pound linebacker from Penn State appeared in all 16 regular season games last season, registering 18 tackles, including 11 solo. With the possible retirement of standout defensive end Aaron Schobel looming, Maybin's pass rushing skills that he showcased as a Nittany Lion would be invaluable.
Given the fact that not only does he possess so much raw talent, but is also only a second-year NFL player, it seems that Maybin will certainly get the opportunity to prove himself on the gridiron. He will likely be in the game on all passing downs, and the 3-4 alignment, which is designed to disguise pre-snap defensive tells, could yield big opportunities.
Maybin believes that his game will translate well to the 3-4, and that his skill set will be accentuated in the new attack.
"I couldn't be more excited about this season coming up, with the new defensive scheme that we're running and with the personnel that we're bringing in and that we've already brought in, and just the guys on the team that we already have. I couldn't be more excited," he said. "I think it's going to be great."
It might also help that the 3-4 is a return to his college roots under coach Joe Paterno at Penn State, which Maybin said will provide him with somewhat of a comfort zone. Knowing the basics, and having familiarity in the system, should all be positives in his sophomore campaign.
"I was probably more comfortable on the left side when I was in college, but for the most part last year, I think I played more right end than anything, so it doesn't really matter," Maybin said. "I can rush the quarterback from any side."
With Bills fans expecting big things in year two, Maybin said he will expand his role on defense, and do what needs to be done to help the franchise be successful.
"This year I'm not a rookie anymore, so I can take a bit more of a leadership position and I'm able to step into a role where I can help this team win football games," he said. "It's exciting, but we still have a lot of work to do. It's not going to happen overnight, but I'm excited."
Bills fans have had just as much time to see McKelvin, the 11th overall pick in the 2008 draft. During his rookie season, McKelvin had 32 tackles, five passes defended, and two interceptions, including a 64-yard return for a touchdown.
He made his biggest contributions in the kick return game, where he was second in the NFL with 1,468 return yards, was second with a 28.2 yard return average, and had a 98-yard return for a touchdown to earn Rookie of the Month honors for November 2008. McKelvin was injured in Week 3 against Tampa Bay in 2009, was put on Injured-Reserve and missed the remainder of the regular season.
Through his first full NFL season, the speedster from Troy has certainly shown the signs of being a game-changer, and that is exactly what McKelvin plans to do in 2010.
"It's year three. We're going into year three," he said. "I missed (almost) all of last season so it's time for me to step it up and perform like it's year three. I'm 100 percent."
McKelvin certainly did not appear any worse for the wear during spring practice, turning in a very impressive cumulative performance. The cornerback looked as focused as he has ever been in his young career, and said that his return was all about playing the waiting game.
"I was pretty much ready (Week 15 last season) because my bone had healed up. By the time I got the boot off it felt pretty good, and I could backpedal and stick my foot in the ground," McKelvin said. "I (broke my fibula) in college and I came back off it really quick. This time I didn't have to get any surgery, so when my bone healed I was ready to go pretty much."
Fans are eagerly anticipating the debut of the 3-4 defense, as this season will provide a fresh opportunity for all involved on that side of the ball. Young players like Maybin and McKelvin will be relied upon heavily from the first day of training camp on July 29 at St. John Fisher, and McKelvin said that experience is the only way to improve one's game.
"It (the 3-4 transition) really (won't) matter, as long as I get out there and play and get the repetitions," he said. "If I can get better as a player, that's pretty much it."